The ACT Workbook for Anger by Robyn D. Walser and Manuela O’Connell uses an acceptance and commitment therapy approach to support readers in better managing anger. Anger is framed as a mix of feelings, physiological sensations, thoughts, and actions, and the authors explain that experiencing it is normal; it’s getting hooked on it that can be a problem.
The book begins by exploring your own relationship with anger, including your history with it, describing it, noticing the different elements of it, and the function it serves.
The rest of the book is primarily organized around the core processes of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): acceptance, defusion, present moment, self-as-context, values, and committed action.
While anger may be experienced as being out of control, the authors say that the problem actually lies in trying to have too much control. They explain that we’re often taught that we need to control our emotions, and exercises are presented to explore strategies you use to try to control your emotions and try to control others in order to manage your own emotions. Essentially, anger feels out of control because we use it to try to avoid and control other emotions, which creates suffering.
I thought the authors did a good job of differentiating between the problem of attempting to control emotions and the need to control our behaviours. They encouraged readers to be authentically present with our inner experience, as difficult as that may be, with a stance of willingness rather than resistance. Willingness is a core concept in ACT, and it’s about actively allowing and accepting all of your inner experiences rather than fighting parts of it. We can’t selectively control/suppress one emotion; we either allow them all or fight them all. By accepting the feelings that are beneath the anger, there’s no need to act out to try to suppress them.
I’m a big fan of ACT metaphors, and the book used several, including the tug of rope metaphor—rather than trying to control by pulling or resisting, you can actually just drop the rope.
The book also explored how our minds evaluate, construct, and ruminate, and it offered strategies for cognitive defusion to get unhooked from our thoughts. Attention was given to identifying evaluative thoughts that fuel our anger, including shoulds, musts, and blaming.
The chapter focused on the self-as-context element of ACT looked at how we get over-attached to descriptions of ourselves and talked about getting in touch with our aware observer self. Another metaphor came in here; the aware observer self is the sky rather than the weather that’s moving across it.
There were chapters devoted to values-based living and taking committed actions towards a meaningful life. The topics of compassion and forgiveness were also addressed.
I quite like the acceptance and commitment therapy approach. While acceptance and anger may not seem to go well together on the face of it, the authors anticipated questions or concerns readers might have and explained why what they were offering would be helpful. Case studies were used throughout to illustrate the main concepts, and there were plenty of questions to prompt self-reflection. The authors acknowledged that the work will be challenging, but they provided good reasons to put in the work.
I thought this book was really well done. It handled an issue that can be very challenging in a compassionate manner, valuing authenticity and leaning into emotions rather than running away and lashing out. I would definitely recommend it for anyone struggling with anger.
The ACT Workbook for Anger is available on Amazon (affiliate link).
I received a reviewer copy from the publisher through Netgalley.